It seems like only a year or two ago nobody had heard of the word “selfie.” But now it has gotten so popular the Oxford Dictionary has given it the International Word of the Year 2013. It is here to stay. Now Obama has shown up in a one, not his first, but a selfie that is giving the White House headaches and an image that is reflecting poorly on the Presidency.
Last year the Boston Red Sox won the World Series and Tuesday the Sox got to walk up the White House lawn and received their due accolades from the President. During the ceremony David Ortiz saddled up to Obama, handed him the official Obama Red Sox jersey, and whipped out his camera phone to take the kind of selfie that justifies the word’s inclusion the Oxford Dictionary.
A selfie is pointless if not shared with the world, so in moments the picture was flying around Twitter. Unfortunately for the President, though not for Mr. Ortiz, the picture was a set-up, a moment brought to the world, not just by Ortiz, but by Samsung. Turns out Ortiz had signed a sponsorship deal with the company the day before and had conspired to go get a selfie with President Obama. Mission accomplished.
Adding another head-slapping level to the story, one of Ortiz’s teammates was heard to say “cha-ching” just after the photo was taken.
Everything coming to light, Samsung admitted to the selfie-stunt a day later and the White House had to give a statement objecting to images being used for commercial purposes. Nevertheless, it was not Obama’s finest moments. It was a poor showing for the Office.
Samsung seems to have gotten good at this game. During this year’s Oscars, after Ellen DeGeneres shot her star-studded, mega-retweeted group selfie, Samsung was accused of setting the whole thing up. It was a logical conclusion considering the company had bought an estimated $20 million dollars worth of advertising during the show. The company plead innocence and even donated $3 million to charity to make sure there were no hard feelings. Samsung came out on top either way and, honestly, the phone did take a nice picture.
So Selfieing, if that has become a word, has made it to the big time. Fighter-pilots all over the world have been competing to see who could grab the best flying selfie. An astronaut took a selfie. A girl took a selfie right she was being tackled by security guards on the field of a baseball game. The Pope has even appeared in a selfie, probably ending the game of best selfie right there. And then there is Obama.
In a time of ubiquitous camera phones, what is the world supposed to think about some of its most powerful and public people appearing in selfies? Obviously, no rules of etiquette have been established. Obama is not the only world leader to appear in one; Putin was in several during the Olympics, although he doesn’t seem particularly worried how he appears on the world stage. But maybe President Obama should start to worry about how his picture looks.
During Nelson Mandela s funeral, Obama was photographed taking a selfie while sitting next to the British and Danish Prime Ministers. It was a strange moment, a few of the world’s most powerful people, surrounded by black-clad mourners, taking a picture of themselves. Obama has always been able to find moments frivolity in a deadly serious job, but the image looked crass and undignified. It gave a bad image to the Office of the President of the United States, and sometimes it is Obama’s duty to understand he is a world ambassador, and his is a serious job. Obama showed his office and himself in a poor light; the same bad place he unwittingly let Ortiz and Samsung put him in. Samsung should have respected the Office of the President, and sometimes Obama needs to do that as well.
Opinion by Andrew Elfenbein
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andyelf